(KUTV) Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer, which is why in the past, if this type of cancer had spread, it meant lymph node removal. However, new research show there might be a better option.
Andy Dahlman says a few years ago he felt a small bump on the side of his head that felt almost like a pimple. He thought it would go away, but it didn’t.
“I went to a dermatologist, got it checked out, got it biopsied, and got a call back about two weeks later saying that it was melanoma,” says Dahlman.
Shocked by the diagnosis, the next step was surgery to remove the tumor. During this surgery they also do what’s called a partial lymph-node dissection.
“When we do that sampling, we just take one or two key lymph nodes out, and that’s called a sentinel or first lymph node biopsy,” says Dr. Tawnya Bowles, Surgical Oncologist at Intermountain Medical Center.
The results showed small amounts of cancer cells in Dahlman’s sentinel node. This gave him the choice to be part of a study looking at how to treat melanoma patients whose cancer had spread.
“Essentially it’s a coin flip. Either you’re going to be in the observation group or you’re going to go in and get a complete dissection which is the common practice,” says Dahlman.
Dahlman was part of the observation group – which meant monitoring the area with ultrasound over the course of about five years. That’s the time frame with the highest risk of melanoma coming back.
“The study showed that the survival of the two groups was identical. Whether they had all of their lymph nodes removed or not,” says Dr. Bowles.
The study also shows the importance of having an initial sampling biopsy in preventing the cancer from spreading into the lymphatic system.
“The lymph node biopsy is not just a diagnostic tool to see if the melanoma is there or not, it’s also treatment in removing that diseased lymph node,” says Dr. Bowles.